Alphabets' Colin Ward: "It began when I was born. Or before. Or scratch that it just began five minutes ago."
Interviewing Alphabets (Colin Ward) is similar to listening to his music: you're put through the ringer of an obnoxious charm, simultaneously witty and grating, aggressive and inviting. Combining both the underground music scene with demanding academic ambitions, the hyper and endlessly talented Colin Ward keeps himself busy with a creative schedule that would leave most artists burnt out and destroyed. But he pushes on, doling out home-made album after home-made album, infecting audiences around the city with performances that combine humor, noise and infectious beats that you can't help but do a strange, offbeat dance to.
On Saturday, March 24, Ward, along with a host of other local artists and musicians, will transform Rhinoceropolis into an ethereal, multimedia art show called Fantasia 2012. On top of that he can often be found performing music around town in his one-man dance-noise band, Alphabets, often staying up late after a long day of studying Auraria, taking on the study of woodwind techniques and composition, along with performing in the African Drumming Ensemble, the Gamelan Ensemble and the Symphonic Ensemble. We recently caught up with Ward, chatting academics vs. DIY and the Rhinoceropolis scene, getting him on the record before taking off on tour with Pictureplane in April.
Westword: You've been a presence in the Denver music scene for a long time now, when did you first get your start playing music?
Colin Ward: I like to either say it began when I was born. Or before. Or scratch that it just began five minutes ago. Or maybe it will begin tomorrow or in like an hour. I started playing my own music publicly in front of people when I was fourteen, then actually started to enjoy doing it when I was in the Tudaloos with Nick Peelor. We played around Denver and toured with Transistor Radio sound and Married in Berdichev. Then I moved to Seattle, just to see another city -- but I had nowhere to play cuz I didn't know anyone who could help me out with a show.
So I started releasing monthly digital albums, all experimental based; then just fuckin' around fightin' demons and finding my sound kinda, at least the sound that happens on a lot of Valium with freeware in a bummed out but pretty place like Seattle. I moved back to Denver when I was nineteen and continued releasing the same amount of music. I liked making freaky audio magazines. I felt like I was releasing a new style of clothing each time or like I was tracking the seasons through my own portal. I didn't really care about performing that music, the recording and finding of new sounds was the performance. This last year I am working more on performance based music.
The music scene you run in seems like a pretty tight group of people; how did you come to embed yourself in a place like Rhinoceropolis?
I have been around Denver since I was fourteen, kinda. I couldn't really say anything final about "the scene." I have been influenced as well as turned off by many different tribes around though. I'll say that. But our crew tries to hit the slam dunks everyday, whether we are in Denver or not, or doing Alphabets, out late at night, or street drumming on the sixteenth or cruising art shows. In Denver I was initiated by people like Brittany Gould [Married In Burdichev], Travis Egedy [Pictureplane], Nicholas Houde [Bedroom People], Ryan [McRyhew] and Kristi Schaefer [Hideous Men] and myself too. I never really say it or believe it that much but fuck I work hard. Lots of people in Denver have welcomed me up, so its mine now to pimp my ride. And I hope to welcome them up too and I still do and will do - freak take over.
What should we expect for this year's Fantasia 2012 art show?
Yes. Well, I think Rhino is already a fantasy village. I just want us to bring that out more. Fantasia 2012 is a group effort. We want to pack paradise into one night, like a magic spell and welcoming of the springtime. We will be installing interactive sculpture and video rooms into all spaces of Rhino. There are about twenty of us presenting it, each person has a different level of collaboration with whatever the outcome becomes. There will be plants everywhere, snacks, videos, music and dance performance, games, costumes. Overall chaos. All sensations. An infinite zone in a giant diorama. Celebrating heart and imagination.
Colin Ward hard at work
You've taken on quite the academic workload, does that environment ever conflict with the culture you're absorbed in at Rhinoceropolis?
This morning I missed the bus by like two seconds, and had to walk to school from rhino to Auraria campus. I walked into woodwinds class dusty as fuck like ten minutes late and my teacher was like, "Why are you late? You can't be late? Is there any special reason you were late?" I said, "I missed the bus by, like, two seconds, I walked all the way from 35th and Brighton Boulevard." He proceeded to use this as an opportunity to the class that "you should be an hour early; an orchestra will fire you if you are late." I wanted to say, "Go ahead and fire me" or "orchestras are dying anyways" or "I know how to respect creative projects," but I keep my brat on the low side. It's a stealth thing. He didn't realize I am actually having Conrad Kehn and the Playground Ensemble (a group who's ass my composition program likes to kiss and for good reason) performing at my house tonight, with Married in Berdichev and some musician from Norway. And that's just a casual Tuesday in March at Rhino.
I'm not at school for grades, I'm at school for music. If grades ever get in the way so that it actually starts prohibiting music, I will leave and not feel sorry. School for me is free but with strings attached, money and practice space with some nonsense attached, some of the guides take you to pretty spaces, and some of them take you to boring rooms. In the end, institutions are control systems, listening to them close enough and patiently enough so that when my ears perk up and get the secret alarm codes, I can use them later when we come back at night to sneak in, steal all the precious metals to make forts out of and dynamite the whole bitch up!
It seems like some of the best musicians to come out of Rhino are leaving Denver for the coasts. Can Denver sustain great talent?
Ryan and Kristi [of Hideous Men] left and Travis [Pictureplane] is leaving because they need something fresh. Everyone needs that once in a while, it's like the seasons of life. Whether you are in a band or a telemarketer, every one wants to move once they've had enough.
Your music seems to have a self-contained element to it, are there other musicians who excite you?
Musical influences? Well I could name drop like twenty of my friends and ten new recent artists or so that are way hot and make my heart drop. I also like older stuff from dead people and not dead yet people. I really enjoy participating in Gamelan Ensemble and African Drumming Ensemble. I love listening to "sleep and relaxation" videos on youtube, like eight hour rainforest noises or hour long lapping waves with thunderstorm audio. Rainforest audio plus street drumming is my influence. My biggest influence in music is DANCE. Dance is life or life is a dance - including but not limited to dancing with pretty girls -- in my mind or IRL. Sometimes I am the pretty girl that I am dancing with. Sometimes I am dreaming of dancing with someone special. Human after all. You can dance while standing still.
You can catch Alphabet's multimedia performance in Fantasia 2012 at Rhinoceropolis (3553 Brighton Boulevard) on Saturday, March 24 at 8 p.m. Fantasia 2012 asks a suggested donation of $5, and if you are so inclined, that you bring a plant.
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